Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Fine Art of Editing

Christmas is well and truly over, so I am about to embark upon the major process of editing the first draft of third book in the Diamonds&Dust series, before sending it to my publisher for a read through. Editing is, in its essence, the art of making things better. I have had various editors in my time and they all work in different ways. My OUP editor maintained a firm hands-off stance, more or less allowing the book to emerge from manuscript to finished product unscathed. On the other hand, I have had editors who carefully scrutinise every paragraph, and red-pencil everything they want changing.

It is a fine balance for the writer to maintain. On the one hand, an editor does (or should) know what makes good and accurate prose and so it is in one's interest to take on board suggestions offered. However it is a moot point how far an editor allows their own 'reading' of the manuscript, and involvement in the creative process to predominate over the original voice of the author. I have been told, on one memorable occasion, that a character 'wouldn't have said that.' As if I knew nothing about them. Sometimes, you have to fight for your integrity. It is never an easy balance.

On this occasion though, I shall be doing my own edit, which means I shall be fighting for my integrity against myself, which will be interesting, and the internal Civil War will probably throw up all sorts of queries. Which I shall have to refer to myself to solve. Hopefully any conflict and animosity will abate enough so that the two of us can get on with it.

By the time the book reaches my ''real'' editor, it will be summer. I am not good in hot weather, but the heat in the Victorian era must have been almost insupportable for women. Forced to go about in tight whalebone corsets, stockings, and numerous undergarments, forbidden to show their arms and legs for fear of exciting male sensibilities, one can barely imagine the torture they must have undergone. And then there was the smell to contend with. In the days before Bazalgette revolutionised the sewerage system, everything made its malodorous journey through London to the River Thames, into which raw sewage and the by-products from factories, and slaughterhouses were poured, so that in the heat of summer, the stink was unbearable.

There is a story that Queen Victoria, visiting the Houses of Parliament one day, noticed small pieces of screwed-up toilet paper floating on the Thames. Upon inquiring of an official what they were, she was told that they contained messages of goodwill from her subjects.
Now that's what I call good editing.


  1. 'Now that's what I call editing' - LOL! As I head off in to London, I shall try not to think of all those 'messages of goodwill' ...

  2. People who sigh for the delights of a bygone age always forget about the dodgy plumbing!


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